Please remember!

The information presented on this blog represents "learning in progress" on my part, a horse owner, who was not satisfied with professional farriers and took matters in my own hands. As far as I am aware at the time of the post, the information presented is correct, but may change with me understanding more about hooves, in which case I will edit or remove the post. In order to follow my learning and understand everything about Molly's hoof, you need to start reading at the bottom.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

to trim or not to trim?

I cannot document every single foot, so here is Gus front right, which I have used a lot in illustrations before, most recently in the entries about bar smear. Gus is extremely sound right now. He has one small general problem, that is really really really hard to get rid of, and this is that his coffin bone must have a small crena (center notch), that causes a small hole in the tip of the toe sole and sometimes a very small crack in his dorsal wall. I am treating it as much as I can, to prevent fungus to grow in there, but it is so small that any treatment is rather inefficient. Since my horses live on a sand dune, the sand packs in even the smallest place and so it is really difficult to keep the sand out of that small hole. In fact, it is impossible. The good news is that this small crack does not seem to bother him at all and so I will not worry about it right now, but obviously keep an eye on it. I measure at every trim how far away it is from the coronary band, and so far it is very constant and never changes.

There is some disagreement amongst hoof care providers on whether this crena represents some pathology due to, for example, toe clips in metal shoes or whether it represents an evolutionary relict of modern horses from their ancestors.  I think the consensus is that the latter is the case in general, but that there is substantial variation amongst horses in the extend to which this crena exists in the coffin bone. And of course, bone degradation can also happen for example due to laminitis and founder. The best evidence I know of is the fossil record itself. Neohipparion, an ancestor of the modern horse lived 5-16 Million years ago, in North and Central America:

The coffin bone of the specimen available at Natural History Museum in Florida shows a very pronounced center notch:

During the further evolution of the modern horse, the center notch became gradually smaller and smaller. But some modern horses still have a clear center notch. And Gus is one of them. He never wore shoes in his whole life, so I can rule out that damage was caused by a toe clip. He also never had laminitis or founder. In his case, I think it is pretty clear, it is just a relict of the ancestors in his genes.

In any case, the picture below shows Gus' front right sole. I have just cleaned it with a wire brush. All loose sole gets easily removed with the wire brush, but what is hard and well attached remains. Normally, I would probably start taking those ridges of sole around the apex of the frog down to make them flush with the sole around it. They have a lot of cracks (not very deep cracks though). In the last 2 years I have been rather conservative with those ridges of sole, as I noticed when I take them down rather aggressively, to make things look "nice and pretty" he is actually a bit outchy on the compressed hard sand on my sand dune. At some point I need to write something about hooves living on a sand dune. Very briefly, a thin sole does do very poorly on wet, packing sand. I believe that this is why my horses grow this rather massive ridges of sole around the apex of the frog, every time, consistently, for the past 4 years now. Everytime they have them rather prominently they are as sound as can be. And Gus is doing very well on all surfaces.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

the growth direction of bar

This is the third part of the post on bars, whether or not they can and do smear all over sole and encircle the frog.

Shown in the picture below is another cadaver hoof that was exposed to the dermestid beetles. The only difference between this hoof and the one in the first post is that this time the hoof is pigmented and not white.

On the left side of the picture I show the corium of a hoof. The black arrow points to the bar corium, i.e. the cells from which the bar grows. One can clearly see the directions of the tubules. They face outwards, in the direction of the quarters of the hoof. The blue lines therefor project where the bar will be growing towards. On the right side of the picture, we can see that this is exactly what the bar wall has done, grow out towards the quarter of the hoof. The bars of this hoof have probably not been trimmed in a while. At least the one on the right side of the hoof. Often times, the consequence of a bar that grows high towards the quarters is a flare on the quarter wall. And this is what seems to have happened to this hoof too. The right side of this hoof in the picture seems much more flared than the left. Most likely the horse, due to its conformation, wore the left side well by itself, and the right side not so well. 

In the next slide I have placed the pigmented and unpigmented cadaver hoof on the same slide.

To recall, Cheryl Henderson is using the left cadaver hoof as proof that bar can smear around the frog (the parts that is pointed to by the red arrows). However, as one can see on the pigmented hoof, the same material that she claims is smeared inner bar wall (zona alba) on the white hoof is pigmented on the black hoof. The zona alba however is white on both white and black hooves and thus on the black hoof, this material that finds itself left over by the beetles and located next to the frog is not zona alba, but very likely ordinary (calloused) pigmented sole. At least the color of it does not provide any evidence for it being bar. If it would be bar, it would now need to be the outer pigmented wall of the bar that smears around the frog.

We can also see again, as in the pigmented hoof, the unpigmented hoof has one bar that wears down by itself nicely (right side of hoof) and one that obviously was trimmed recently (left side of picture) and had grown quite high up towards the quarters.

Taken together this post the patterns observed suggest that the bar does not grow forward on the hoof (i.e. towards the tip of the frog) but outwards, in the direction of the bar corium tubules, towards the quarters and not the tip of the frog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

pigmentation loss in sole

This is the second part of my recent blog post on bars, and whether or not they smear all over sole. To recap, Cheryl Henderson believes that the zona alba of the bar (i.e. the unpigmented inner wall) can outgrow its corium and lay over and smear all over sole. The evidence is the cadaver hoof that I talked about in the previous blog post. And I already explained why I have a different interpretation of the patterns observed. But the discussion is not complete without talking more in general about pigmentation of the hoof.

The hoof is nothing else than modified skin. The skin contains specialized cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin (or dark pigments). Black hooves, like skin,  have cells that produce melanin, while white hooves don't produce melanin.  It is a simple genetic factor that determines whether skin does or does not produce melanin.This is an over-simplification, but enough to understand the point I would like to make.

As many of us have seen with our own eyes, melanocytes in the skin can actually get damaged and loose their potential to produce melanin. Any sort of injury can cause this, or even just too much pressure. Examples are the brands that some horses carry, or the white spots many horses have on their withers due to an ill fitting saddle.

The same thing can also happen in the hoof. Areas of the hoof, who are under very high pressure can loose their ability to produce pigments, so that on a genetically black hoof, some areas can be white. In the hoof, the pressure is usually concentrated under the coffin bone. This is why we find in a lot of cases "white imprints" of coffin bones on an otherwise black sole. The first example below belongs to a mustang, who has a very worn down and very short hoof. This mustang must have traveled many many miles on hard ground.

This hoof belongs to a black (i.e. genetically melanin producing) horse. The wall is black and the coat is black. The sole should be black too, however, if we look closely, there is an area of white sole right throughout the front part of the hoof. This is exactly where the coffin bone is located, and where it descends upon weight bearing. I have circled the coffin bone imprint on the sole in red. The most likely explanation of this pattern is that pigment producing cells have been destroyed in this area of massive pressure. Though this effect has absolutely no effect to the horse, the hooves look totally healthy and fully functional, for that horse in its environment. The horse does not care if his or her sole is white or black. It just is a symptom of a cause, namely, in this case, a very hard working hoof.

The next example is my own mare, who is also black and also should have an entirely black sole.
She shows a very similar phenomenon to the mustang hoof, namely the imprint of the coffin bone on her sole, though much less pronounced, as an area of white. It is easy to see in the polished hoof from the snow. Before I started trimming myself, I never noticed this, but as soon as I did I was wondering about this. The position of the white would not change, or go away over the course of 4 years now. It just stayed there and it will never go away. This is because once the melanocytes are destroyed in a certain area, even if the excess pressure is now gone, the cells are destroyed for good. My mare's hoof will never ever return to a pure black sole.

Here is another case. This horse is severely overtrimmed (it has been lame for a long time), and one can clearly see the imprint of the coffin bone as missing pigmentation on otherwise pigmented hoof. This is another example where the concept of "bar smeared over sole" and instructions to remove it in my opinion will make this horse only worse, as there is no bar smeared anywhere, only lack of pigmentation on the sole. On the bright side, this hoof does not require any mapping, as the white pigmentation will exactly tell where the coffin bone is located.

Or in some cases, hooves can show white sole in areas around the frog, but otherwise black sole.
Picture by Torill Iversen

In the last case, the most likely scenario, that generated that pattern involved excess sole build-up around the frog that also exerted too much pressure and destroyed melanocytes forever, at some point in the past. This could have happened a long time ago, but the effect will be visible forever.

As I said above, pigmentation loss in the sole of the horses does not seem to have any effect. The only time it does is when people misunderstand this pigmentation pattern, and believe it is bar that needs to be dug out. Then very often, they will be surprised that a) they hit blood trying to remove that area of sole, and b) the white pigmentation is still there, even after years of trying to eliminate it.

Totally unrelated to what I would call "acquired pigmentation loss", there are also hooves that have stripes or spots of white on the sole due to the genetic patterning of the horse. These are common in Paint horses, or horses that have markings on their legs, such a white socks. My mare, for example, has a right hind foot that is half white and half black. She is totally black otherwise, with a tiny white star on her fore head. The sole on that right hind too is half white and half black. This is unrelated to pigmentation loss due to pressure, but represents a genetic patterning of the horse. Of course, acquired pigmentation loss and genetic patterning of the hoof could occur at the same time in one horse, so interpreting pigmentation patterns on hooves is often not so easy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

flesh eating beetles and "bar smear"

This blog entry has long been in the making. I started writing it in April 2014. The topic of this post will be bars, and whether or not they can “circle around the frog”, “smear in the sole” or “overlay the sole in a thin veil”.
Bars migrating or smearing or pushing up in the capsule is a central theme in the ABC hoof print trim. According to the inventor of the ABC trim, Cheryl Henderson, many pathologies are attributed to bars having migrated to places they should not be, or getting imbedded in sole. Often times, painting a picture where bars overlay the sole and crush new sole tubules underneath lead beginner trimmers (including me in early 2011) to dig out supposed bar material, in search for some sole underneath, but instead finding themselves having “quicked” (i.e. hit blood) their horses (thankfully excluding me!).
I personally started questioning this idea, that bar smears or migrates when I was removing it over the course of 6 months to one year, only to find, that my horses a) became extremely sensitive on their soles and b) the supposed “bars” growing back every time exactly the same way as I found them 4-6 weeks prior.  So I concluded that something must not be correct with this theory.
Cheryl Henderson believes that her own research has proven that bar (or better the “zona alba” of the bar, i.e. the inner unpigmented wall of the bar) can migrate and circle around the frog. However, what people without any formal research training may not realize, this research is merely an observation combined with a hypothesis and not a proof whatsoever.
The scientific process usually has several steps:
1)    Most research starts out with an observation.
2)    Next, one proposes a mechanism for that observation.
3)    Third, one proves that this mechanism is indeed able to generate the observation. The proof is NOT the observation itself, or otherwise it would be an entirely circular argument.
4)    One states exceptions to the rule, or how significant the observation is. For example, of all cadaver hooves that were analyzed, the patterns of bar circling/embedding around the frog has only ever been observed on white hooves. Not on black hooves. (Note: on white hooves bar and sole are basically indistinguishable, whereas on black hooves white bar circling around or embedding into sole should easily be distinguished from black sole).
5)    One submits the research to a scientific peer-review process stating truthfully all observations that have been obtained, and not only the ones that fit the mechanism proposed by the author
6)    The scientific community then decides if a study is worthwhile publishing provided all rules of good scientific practice have been followed.
In the particular case of Cheryl Henderson’s beetle cadaver study, if it would ever have reached step 5), the reviewers should have severely questioned the results based on point 4). It is HIGHLY unlikely that a mechanism of bar circling around the frog should be limited to white hooves only.

So here is now a more detailed description of the research. It is pretty simple, but I admit, very cool and also very appealing to people who do not know any better: she throws a hoof in a container with dermestid beetles. These beetles are used by taxidermists (and crazy biologists at times) to clean bones from flesh. An example of one hoof after being exposed to the beetles is shown below. This picture has been circling Facebook for years now:

What remains of the hoof after the beetles have spent some time with it is the wall, the bars, and some material that is attached to the bars but have a flat appearance encircling the frog (which of course is not there anymore, as the bugs most likely ate that one first, as it is about the softest material on the whole hoof). Her conclusion is that the latter, since it is connected to the bar, must have grown from the bar, and therefore represents bar. Then she goes on explaining that very many horses have bar circling around the frog and this causes them major damage.

My criticism would be that there is no proper scientific protocol being followed here. It is just an observation, followed by a hypothesis. And that is fair enough. This is the first step in all research. The problem lies in the fact that Cheryl considers this observation as proof. It is a good observation, but the conclusions and implications she insists it is showing do not exist. There is also no cautioning that there could be other explanations for the patterns observed, which, in science, until something is really proven several times independently, is almost always the case. Nor any mechanism that would explain how bar can so far outgrow its corium.
This is a cadaver hoof. I need to point out that this is NOT the same hoof as pictured above. Cheryl Henderson does not provide any pictures of the hoof depicted above before the beetles started to work on it. But the hoof below has the typical "bars circling around the frog" issue, that Cheryl is so particular about. I have circled the supposed "bar" in black.

This is the other side of that same hoof with the coffin bone sitting in the hoof capsule, but the navicular bone missing.
The blue arrows point to the true end of the bar, where the lamellae of the white line end. What is forward of the end of the bar are straight horn tubules, that look a lot like the ones from the hoof wall. They just somehow look different than normal sole tubules, somehow stronger and thicker. Yet, in my opinion, this is not bar that "smeared" or "migrated", but sole, maybe of some slightly different anatomy as sole further out on the hoof, i.e. not right next to the frog and bar. After all, this sole finds itself at a “junction” the junction between frog and sole and bar. It has to connect the bars with the sole and the frog. It must be a rather difficult task and one of massive importance. Junctions usually are weak points, so it would make total sense if that junction would be somehow re-enforced by having some stronger sole tubules. 
I am not saying that my interpretation is necessarily correct. It is just as much of a hypothesis as Cheryl’s interpretation is one, that this material is inner bar wall smeared out from the back of the hoof. Future research would need to look in the detailed anatomy of hooves and in particular that junction between bar, sole and frog on many hooves, black, white, from lots of different living environments etc.
Now, this bar/sole/frog junction horn is exactly the horn that the bugs don't like eating.

 As I said above, in my opinion, the fact that the beetles don't like eating this structure does not prove it is bar. It is attached to bar, but this must not mean that is indeed bar. It is more likely that the sole near the bar-sole-frog junction is anatomically somewhat different. And this in turn would mean that the concept of trying to dig out bar around the frog is misleading. Yes, this cadaver hoof has some accumulation of excess material around the frog, I don't think anybody denies that, but it does not need to be dug out in search for sole "underneath". It simply needs to be smoothed off to the level of exfoliated sole around it, and that's it.

Now comes my evidence (still no proof!), that the material that circles around the frog is not bar, but compressed sole callus, that, on white hooves, can be difficult to distinguish from bar.  

Here is one of my geldings hooves from April 14th of this year, when I started to work on this blog post. Short background on him is on top of the slide. If I would have approached Cheryl for help with this hoof (which I did 3.5 years ago) she would have told me to lower his heels, his bars and remove the material that I have marked in red in the following slide, claiming it would be bar that smeared out and overlaying the sole, crushing it underneath. She would have told me to take sliver after sliver and inspect it under the microscope so that I would know if it is bar or sole (but no information is given that this is even possible to distinguish under the microscope). It is a white hoof, of course, so bar and sole are hard to distinguish (to the untrained eye, for me it is simple now, as I know those hooves in and out). 

This is the area (circled in red) that I would have been told to remove, representing bar smear: 

 I have trimmed my horse for more than 3.5 years now, in a rather strict 4 week schedule. For the last year or so I have help by an AANHCP, who checks on my work periodically.  I know with 100% certainty that this material is not bar. I have defined the bars 100ds of times, all three layers of it, pigmented and unpigmented wall and white line. If one looks carefully one can see the white line in the bars straight and not laid over.
 In this slide I have marked the rough position of the coffin bone. It is quite clear in my mind that this red line tracks pretty well the coffin bone above.
And again here, in comparison to the material that the bugs don't like eating.

To me, all the evidence taken together points to a model where sole around the frog can take on various consistencies, callous and become really hard and sometimes look shiny and slick, so that beetles abstain from eating it, at least as long as they have anything else to eat. This is because the coffin bone exerts so much pressure, and for my horses, who live on a sand dune, the sand (or snow) packs in their hooves and creates a lot of counter pressure. The sole adapts to those pressures and callouses quickly and massively to provide the hoof with adequate protection. Does it look necessarily pretty and beautiful, like the mustang feet? No! Absolutely not, but these feet could master ice and snow without one slip and one ouch and that is what counts. Mustangs don't spend 3 months on 3 feet of snow. At least not the ones we take as models these days (the Australian brumbies or the Great Basin mustangs). Hooves do look different in every single environment, and that makes them so special, their adaptability.
In my mind, there is undoubtedly need for more research to study the different appearances that sole can take on in different environments, and also the anatomy of that bar-sole-frog junction. Linda Cowles has made a nice effort with respect to sole appearances. I have referred to her blog before:

Clearly, noone has all the answers yet, and we all have to stay open minded and try and learn what it is the horse tries to tell us. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

effect of metal shoes

I am starting to collect links to research studying the effect of shoes. This topic always comes up in discussions and this way I am trying to keep a list of links:

Study 1)

Julie Bailey of "The Natural Hoof" writes: "My thoughts - radiographs used in the study were obtained from participating equine veterinary clinics, so if the horses were at the vets having their feet x-rayed how healthy were the hooves used in the study? Were the horses long term shod? Would love to see this study repeated using sound barefoot horses.

I'm reminded of listening to Robert Bowker talk about how bones love compression, and hate tension which results in loss of bone density (demineralization). In a bare hoof the sole bares weight so the pedal bone is compressed between the weight of the horse and the ground. In a shod/peripherally loaded hoof the sole is suspended above the ground, the pedal bone (and the whole horse) is suspended from the hoof walls via the laminae, and so is being pulled outward by the laminae and is under tension. What happens to astronauts after a long stay in space? No gravity so their bones don't experience compression and demineralize.

Study 2)

"The finding is in contrast to the widely held belief that shoeing improves gait quality."

Monday, July 21, 2014

nice break over

nice demonstration of great fit and great break over in Renegade boots...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

the difference between a hoof that works and one that does get by on soft ground

I wanted to post this picture as an example of the difference between a hoof, that is cut to specific parameters as given, for example, by the ABC trimming manual, and a foot that is managed by the horse's need. The ABC trimming manual mandates all horses heels to be backed up to the "baseline", which corresponds to the widest part of the frog and also most of the time to the position where the periople skin curls up (indicated by the red arrows in the picture below). I have previously written a blog post about the heel height.
I have trimmed my horses heels back to that landmark when I first started out trimming my horse's feet, in 2011. When the heel is so low, the toe needs to be brought back also very substantially, which meant in my case that I needed to remove a lot of toe, basically removing pretty much all toe wall and some sole in the toe.
As a result of this trim, my horses were basically unable to master hard terrain. They were fine as long as they stayed on their sand paddocks and pastures, but they were very uncomfortable on any sort of hard ground.

Long story very short, on the right part of the picture below, you can see my geldings front left hoof as he presents it today compared to the "ABC" trimmed hoof in 2011. It is pretty obvious that today he has a much more massive heel (it is roughly at the height that Cheryl Henderson thinks should belong to a draft horse) and much more massive bar, supporting that heel. Also, he is no longer walking on his sole but has some wall support all throughout his foot.

The difference in function between those feet is like night and day. He can now master any terrain without any hoof protection once again, something he was also able to do before I started the ABC trim, but never during the time of the ABC trim.

When I started trimming myself according to the ABC trim, I was always told that bar had migrated over my horses sole and circled around the frog. This caused me to shorten bars and "dig out" supposed bar material for months without end, only to find the foot growing back the exact same way as I found it before.

My horses live on a sand dune. The (mostly wet) sand compresses in their solar concavity and in the area right under the coffin bone, the pressure on sole is largest so that the texture of that sole changes slightly. It basically becomes much harder sole right underneath the coffin bone, than further out, where no coffin bone is pressing on the sole anymore. This is the one and only reason, why, on my horses in their environment, the sole around the frog looks slightly different from anywhere else. There never was any bar "smeared" or "pooled" or "migrated" anywhere else than where the bar was supposed to be, at the back of the foot. This whole concept was so wrong and caused me and my horses so much sorrow, that I hope with this post maybe someone will be deterred from that notion of bar pooling, migrating or smearing and find other ways to understand the hoof than following blindly such misinformation.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Maybe Gus does have neck threadworm...

Last year this article circulated Facebook and other horse related websites:

I became aware of it because Gus for the first time last year had developed a weird skin condition that did not seem to react to any topical treatments I tried out. He had little bumps in his girth groove on the left side of his body. The pictures are from July 26, 2013, and I probably have noticed those bumps for the first time 2 weeks prior to these photos.

Whether or not those bumps were itchy I can't tell as he can not really reach this area very well by himself and so I never saw him itching there.

I found out about the neck threadworm on September 26, last year (2013) by reading the article reference above. Since these bumps were still there, I decided to deworm both of my horses with a single dose of Zimecterin Gold. I usually deworm them for tapeworms in October anyway, so they were almost due for one anyway. Interestingly, two days later the bumps had disappeared and Gus regrow normal hair within 1-2 weeks (I cannot remember precisely).
After this single dose of Zimecterin Gold in 2013 Gus never had a single bump again, throughout the whole autumn/winter and spring - until last week. I noticed the spots coming back July 7th, 2014, again on the left side of his body, but this time on the underside of his neck and none in his girth groove. This time I did not hesitate long, bought the dewormer and administered it yesterday, again, a single dose. Unfortunately, this year I did not take any pictures of the bumps before deworming. They looked the same as in 2013, but a much smaller area was affected, most likely because I reacted to them 2 month earlier than last year. The picture below is taken 24 h after the single Zimecertin Gold dose on July 12th, 2014.

Gus must have scratched at night, as his skin was bare and a little bloody, which is was not the day before. The day before it just had those dry bumps. Also, the whole area was slightly swollen this morning, something that also seems to be expected according to the article above. But the bumps had disappeared, over night. I have now applied Zephyr's garden No-Fly-healing salve on the affected area and will watch it closely. He now also wears a fly blanket.

This is now the second time that Gus developed these symptoms, pretty much at the exact same time of year. It supports the idea of a neck threadworm is causing it though I can't know for sure, unless I have a skin biopsy performed, or maybe I will devise a molecular test (PCR) for larvae DNA in those bumps.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pssm results are in

and I cannot believe them! I recently stumbled across a discussion on PSSM in horses. Background on this disease can be found here. The reason why I became really interested is given here. In this blogpost, the author reports on a horses that showed some symptoms that reminded me quite a lot of my Gus. Since the mutation that causes PSSM is known, and I am a molecular geneticist I decided to sequence the exon 6 of the Gys1 gene in both my horses myself. So one morning I went out and plucked some hair from my horses manes, in order to extract their DNA from the hair follicles. It is quite amazing how massive those follicles are. I got plenty of DNA out of those small tissue samples.

Next I set up my PCR and run it in the PCR machine.

A few days later the University's core sequencing facility has sent the results of the sequencing back! The frequency of the mutation is about 8% in the QH population. It is dominantly inherited, meaning that just a single copy of the disease allele will cause some symptoms. However, symptoms can be very subtle and are easily misdiagnosed, especially when Vets, owners, etc., have not had any prior experience with this disease.

I must say that I was blown away to see that Molly carried the disease allele, but Gus did not. As I never really saw any symptoms on her. But as I know now, after researching a lot on the disease, Molly has always shown clear signs of the disease, I just never knew it and they were very mild, partly because she has always been kept in an ideal way for PSSM1 horses. I also was skeptical enough that I could have made an error, so I repeated the sequencing. Same result.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Molly through the years...

I looked through my summer pictures, as I cannot stand the snow anymore. It is still so cold, every night close to -20C. I have not been able to ride in 3 months now, and I must say the snow is getting old!

Just for fun, I made this slide, Molly in 2007 (at her breeders in Michigan) and last August. Molly and I have been together for 6.5 years now. And I loved her every single day during this time. I can't believe she is already going to turn 10 in March! For me, she is still my baby, and she always will be :-)!

It is quite interesting how different her coat looks like. The pictures have been taken at the same time of year, so the difference is not between winter and summer coat. I have never again seen Molly as bleached as in 2007. Partly, my feeding regime could make a difference, but mostly, I think it is a reflection of life style. In my place, Molly lives in the shady woods in the summer, whereas she used to live out in the open pasture 24/7 in Michigan. So she simply got bleached out by the sun in Michigan. Even in my place I can clearly see that her coat is not pure black. After all, she is only heterozygous for the black allele, her mom was chestnut and her dad was black.

Monday, February 3, 2014

snow, snow, and then some more snow...

It seems as if this year we just don't get a break from the snow. I have not seen earth in over 2 months now, only snow. It is an interesting cycle. Either it is "warm", around 0 to -5 degree C, and then it snows, or it is freezing cold (lower than -19 C) and the sun is bright up and the skies are blue. All creatures on my little farm have by now gotten used to it, even I have become very proficient in snow shuffling. I have to add an extra 30 minutes each day, to heat up my water pump in the barn, and mostly to dig my path to the manure pile and also from the barn to the house.

The only thing I am missing is studying hoof pictures. And hooves for that matter. I cannot see my horses hooves in the snow. When I try to pick them up, the snow is stuck in them and is all around them. Cleaning them out is a task too, as I am very clumsy with my big winter gloves, and by the time I have taken off the glove I have dropped the hoof pick and have to search for it in the snow. It is not fun, and so I have pretty much just given up doing anything with the feet. 3 days ago, I did a thorough check and everything looked great. Hardly anything to do. Horses grow thick soles in the snow and that is a good thing. Also, they get quite a lot of exercise. It is really exhausting to walk all day in the deep snow.

The horses love the cold days with the bright sun out. Molly, in her black fur, positions herself in parallel to the sun. Within seconds, the black fur gets hot and I see steam coming off from the skin underneath it. She just loves "baking" in the sun on days like this, especially after the cold night. Gus, with his lighter hair does not get nearly as hot. But he too must feel the warmth of the sun. At least he is at an advantage in the summer, where he does not get as hot and attracts way less horse flies than Molly's black coat does. But I do think in the cold winter, the black coat must be an advantage. Also, since yesterday, Molly starts dropping some hair! It always amazes me, how much in advance they anticipate the change in season. On the hottest days in August, they start growing in their winter fur and at the coldest days at the end of January, they start dropping them.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I must say I like this polar vortex

and I think so do the horses. Interesting, this morning at -20 C, they were very eager to eat and chew on oak wood. This was despite them having unlimited hay. I was wondering if this behavior is somehow ingrained in them, from the millions of years of evolution, where in the cold winters nothing else was there to eat but the shoots from trees...  Pretty much exactly what the deer in my woods are eating right now.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Surviving the "polar vortex"

This time the weather forecast was correct, the Midwest was hit by the polar vortex at 3 am on Sunday night. For NW Indiana, this meant -24 degree C and this is without the windchill. Public life came to a halt, schools and universities closed on Monday, even our train to Chicago did not run, the first time this happened since we live here.

In our woods it was actually very beautiful, even the hours of snow shuffling were kind of fun. Getting the horse manure from the stable to the pile was a challenge, because we first had to dig a path through the snow, but hubby mastered it for me :-)!

Of course I was worried about my animals, chickens and horses. The horses have been at temperatures around -22 C without problems, but yesterday a small complication was that they were wet due to the snow storm that happened right before the polar vortex hit.  I did not factor that in. But luckily, by the time the polar vortex hit horses had dried up and their coat provided full protection. My horses do not wear blankets ever, so they have a full thick winter coat. The best insulation is provided by the "piloerection" of the hair, where each hair stands up and each one of them traps a little pocket of insulating air. Piloerection is not possible with a blanket on the horses body and in my opinion, no blanket can be as warm as a full natural healthy coat of hair.

So when I came in the barn this morning my horses had icicles around their mouth and nose, the snow made huge squirking noises under their hooves and my shoes, but they were absolutely not cold in any way.

I also had made them big beds of straw in their stalls and put in as much hay as they could possibly want to eat, as eating hay helps keeping them warm. Of course the water is kept from freezing and has a pleasant temperature to drink. But I do not close the stall door. They can go out as much as they want, even in this cold weather, and they do go out once in a while, Gus, mostly to pee! He is a good boy, peeing outside!

So tonight is another cold night, temperatures are supposed to go down to -28 C. I am confident my horses will be fine, and the chickens too! And then, on Friday, this whole thing will be over and we are supposed to get rain! What a mess this will be, so much snow and then rain on top of that. I bet that will make for a lot of horrible ice. We'll wait and see. Midwesterns are hardy people, I heard. I guess we don't have much choice.